City of Lawrence proposes using $8.3M in pandemic funds on homelessness, affordable housing

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured Thursday, July 7, 2016.

Updated at 3:20 p.m. Dec. 6, 2022

City leaders will soon consider a recommendation to spend more than $8 million in federal pandemic relief funds on projects related to housing and homelessness, including a proposal to spend $4.65 million to build tiny, modular homes for people experiencing homelessness.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider a recommendation from city staff to spend the city’s remaining $8.29 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds on eight projects related to housing and homelessness. Some commissioners previously indicated they were interested in using at least some of the ARPA funds to address the city’s affordable housing shortage and homelessness, and city staff want to know whether commissioners are generally supportive of the proposed spending plan.

The city’s Housing Initiatives Division estimates there are more than 200 people currently living unsheltered outside, and a recent homeless needs assessment found that the community has several deficiencies in local support. That includes a need for more affordable housing and property owners willing to accept rental assistance; permanent supportive housing for individuals who experience chronic homelessness; and increased collaboration between service providers.

Housing Initiatives Manager Danelle Walters states in a memo to the commission that the recommendations reflect the findings of the needs assessments, as well as best practices and proven methods of responding to those experiencing homelessness. In addition to the $4.65 million project to build modular homes, the eight recommended projects include affordable housing, supportive housing, and transitional housing for women and families.

The memo states that the city needs to develop interim strategies to help with emergency sheltering needs, as well as plan, fund and construct numerous units of supportive and affordable housing. The city states that “several hundred” affordable housing units are needed, and staff recommend using both the city’s affordable housing and federal pandemic relief funds to address the issue over the next three to five years, stating that one congregate emergency shelter is “not enough or appropriate” for that time period.

“Camping and Emergency Shelter is a reality for our community UNTIL we meet the identified housing needs across the spectrum,” the memo states.

Details included in the memo about the proposed projects are as follows:

-Property Acquisition and Infrastructure (affordable housing), $1.6 million: Purchase land and provide infrastructure costs for development of up to 80 new rental and homeownership units of affordable and moderate income housing, to be held in the Community Land Trust. The development would serve very low to moderate-income individuals. Units may include multifamily and single family, mixed rental and homeownership, with approximately 4-8 units with supportive services.

-DCCCA Transitional Housing for Women and Families, $600,000: The project will provide 10 units of transitional housing for women in recovery from substance abuse. Duplex homes will house women who have struggled with substance abuse but have newly entered recovery. The program will prioritize individuals in early recovery from substance use, specifically pregnant and parenting women, who need an interim step between formal treatment and living more independently.

-Bert Nash Supported and Rehabilitative Permanent Housing, $900,000: This project will create 22-24 permanent supportive housing units. All units and services will be targeted for people with serious mental illness who are experiencing homelesseness and have low or no income and qualify for local housing vouchers. Bert Nash will provide dedicated, on-site supportive services, including supported employment services.

-Homeless Outreach Response and Community Engagement, $200,000: The Housing Initiatives Division is recommending up to $100,000 for a street outreach worker to provide primary outreach to individuals living in shelters and those who are unsheltered for an up to eight-month contract, and up to $100,000 for a public engagement professional for up to one year. The public engagement professional would work in conjunction with the city’s communications on HID-related issues.

-Tenant Rights Education and Counseling, $255,000 ($85,000 for three years): This project would provide tenant rights and legal education, tenant counseling, and connections to legal counsel when appropriate. A request for proposals would be issued for a provider certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

-Housing Program AmeriCorps member, $10,500: The AmeriCorps member would serve within HID to provide additional capacity for affordable housing community engagement efforts. The member would be responsible for coordinating community forums; producing print and online materials on affordable housing needs, resources, providers, goals and accomplishments; and convening local affordable housing providers for collective impact projects.

-Housing Needs Assessment and Market Analysis, $75,000: The city’s most recent housing market assessment was conducted in 2018, and the goal of the new assessment would be to identify current housing needs after the drastic changes in market conditions during the pandemic.

-Modular Homes Project/Service Campus for Unsheltered Homeless (Land acquisition, rehab, infrastructure, modular homes), $4.65 million: Staff is exploring the idea of investing in tiny, modular homes that can be an alternative to tents for those experiencing homelessness. The homes take about 30 minutes each to construct, and ideally the project would be placed in a location that could be utilized as a social services campus. The city is contemplating a second location for families, single women, and youth experiencing homelessness.

In other business, the commission will:

•Conduct the election for mayor and vice mayor and hear comments from the outgoing mayor and incoming mayor.

•Consider a request to rezone approximately 0.13 acre at 900 Pennsylvania St. from general industrial to limited industrial to allow the building to be used as a restaurant.

•Consider issuing up to $5.3 million in industrial revenue bonds for the Community Children’s Center to obtain a sales tax exemption on construction materials and labor for the renovation its newly acquired building at 346 Maine St.

The City Commission will convene for its regular agenda at 5:45 p.m. at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a change to the city memo in regard to the Bert Nash project. As the Journal-World reported on Tuesday, Bert Nash is no longer seeking to locate the project in the downtown area.


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